Wednesday, July 23, 2008

July 17, 2008 – Climbing the Cols

Today was the last day of riding before the big ascent up Alp d’Huez. My goal was to take the ride easy and take the climbs up the Cols easy. I left at the same time as the group, but I decided I would stop along the way and take photos.

Again, the beauty of France didn’t fail to amaze me. Flowers were everywhere. In the villages, I stopped and took photos of some beautiful gardens. On the mountains were wildflowers – lavender, poppies and others. Our first climb wasn’t too steep, but we gained over 1000 meters (or over 3100 feet) over the first 30 miles. Our highest ascent for the day was Col de Menee. The worst part of the climb was after when I had to go through a long dark tunnel. I was scared thinking that cars wouldn’t be able to see me in the dark. Fortunately, the support van was following me, I later realized.

We had lunch at a café in the valley of the Col. It was beautiful with mountain peaks in the background, flowers in the foreground and a pool tempting us with its cool water on such a warm day. Shane couldn’t resist and stripped down to his bike shorts and jumped in.

After lunch I passed by the town of Mens and saw some quaint houses, more flowers and met Gerard, a retired English teacher and Mens resident. We talked a while about the rural life in Mens and he told me about his travels to the U.S.

Becky and John caught up to me in Mens, and the three of us rode up the next climb of the day - Col de Accarias, which wasn’t nearly as steep nor long as the mornings climb. John was an avid cyclist and his wife, Becky, was new to the sport and had decided to tackle 13 days of biking up mountains. (I found that very brave for a new cyclist!)

After all of our climbing, we had one last three mile climb into our campground, Camping Belvedere de l'Obiou (near Les Egats). I took it easy for the climb, and finished well before 4 p.m. for the day. I had time to set up my tent, do my laundry,watch the Tour de France and check my Internet (free of charge!). By far this was the nicest campground we stayed at. There were no open air urinals, the showers had curtains, the sinks had soap and there was even a clothesline! I felt like this was camping heaven.

Later that night, the campground owners fed us with “tartiflette” - pronounced tarty-flats. It was a local specialty like au gratin potatoes with ham. But these were the absolute best I have ever had. I think it was the local cheese that made it special – but I never found out for sure. I ate a plate and a half and also had some chocolate mousse for desert. I felt sick by the time I had finished eating. But I thought that it would be good fuel for the day’s next ride up Alp d’Huez!

Total miles: 48 (approximately)

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